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Tourism vision turns toxic in California's Imperial Valley

By Randy Stulberg, producer, VBS.TV
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Idyllic riviera turns toxic
  • A vision of luxury in the 1950s, Southern California "Riviera" is now a "fetid bouillabaisse"
  • Developers didn't foresee pollution that has killed millions of fish in the Salton Sea
  • Squatters, toxic debris and "apocalyptic" landscape are all that remain today

Editor's note: The staff at has recently been intrigued by the journalism of VICE, an independent media company and Web site based in Brooklyn, New York. VBS.TV is broadband television network of VICE. The reports, which are produced solely by VICE, reflect a transparent approach to journalism, where viewers are taken along on every step of the reporting process. We believe this unique reporting approach is worthy of sharing with our readers.

Brooklyn, New York (VBS.TV) -- Set beside the Imperial Valley in southeastern California, the Salton Sea area was supposed to be Hollywood's answer to the Riviera back in the '50s. But its developers failed to anticipate the raw sewage that would run up the New River from Mexico and make survival impossible for many aquatic species.

Rotting fish guts and toxic debris soon littered the shoreline. Construction projects were abandoned and yet another impotent vision of luxury tourism was left flaccid. Thanks again, trash!

See the rest of Toxic: Imperial Valley at VBS.TV

Today the entire Imperial Valley is an apocalyptic dustbowl in the center of the California badlands.

We set out to explore this fetid bouillabaisse. What we found were remnants of the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range, a half-million-acre plot that was once the practice site for various governmental bombardiers.

It is the place of business for the residents of a nearby compound known as Slab City -- a mostly insane coterie of fun-hunting drifters, vets, addicts, artists and crazies who subsist on sautéed snake, lukewarm Tecate, money earned from scrapping bombshell fragments and what's left of their wits.

It's pretty much all that remains of the Wild West.